In Part 1 of Gulliver’s Travels, A Voyage to Lilliput, Gulliver describes the ongoing war between the two mighty empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu.
It began upon the following Occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking Eggs before we eat them, was upon the larger End: but his present Majesty’s Grandfather, while he was a Boy, going to eat an Egg, and breaking it according to the ancient Practice, happened to cut one of his Fingers. Whereupon the Emperor his Father published an Edict, commanding all his Subjects, upon great Penalties, to break the smaller End of their Eggs. The People so highly resented this Law, that our Histories tell us there have been six Rebellions raised on that account; wherein one Emperor lost his Life, and another his Crown. These civil Commotions were constantly fomented by the Monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the Exiles always fled for Refuge to that Empire. It is computed, that eleven thousand Persons have, at several times, suffered Death, rather than submit to break their Eggs at the smaller End. Many hundred large Volumes have been published upon this Controversy: but the Books of the Big-Endians have long been forbidden, and the whole Party rendered incapable by Law of holding Employments. During the Course of these Troubles, the Emperors of Blefuscu did frequently expostulate by their Ambassadors, accusing us of making a Schism in Religion, by offending against a fundamental Doctrine of our great Prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth Chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however is thought to be a mere Strain upon the Text: For the Words are these: That all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End: and which is the convenient End, seems, in my humble Opinion, to be left to every Man’s Conscience, or at least in the power of the chief Magistrate to determine.
It is said that the controversy between the Little-Endians and the Big-Endians represents that between the Reformed Church, and Roman Catholicism, and that Lilliput and Blefuscu represent, respectively, Britain and France. But great satire has a universal and timeless application, and for as long as men and women adopt causes, take sides, and get hot under the collar, there will be Little-Endians and Big-Endians. Perhaps politicians should be advised to keep a copy of the above extract from Gulliver on their desk, and then when they feel disposed to draw “red lines” over some issue, consider whether the issue in question is so important after all.
Had Jonathan Swift been alive today, I wonder what he would have made of the current political situation in these islands? I imagine, quite a lot. As a Dubliner he would certainly have had something to say about the Irish Backstop, whose historic origins would have been perfectly familiar to him. And he would have had something to say about the two distinct schisms that now divide, and threaten to obliterate, the principal political parties at Westminster. He would have recognised, in the current Phoney War that exists while Parliament is in recess, a rich source of absurdity and farce. I think he would have subjected the entire House to sustained and merciless ridicule.
I was not long resident in the Island’s principal Metropolis, a great, sprawling, and I think once magnificent Centre of Commerce, when I was afforded the signal Honour of attending a Convocation of the Representatives of the People. This took place in a rococo Palace of considerable Splendour, perched on the edge of the River, and, on closer Inspection, evidently in dire Peril of collapsing therein. The Parliament assembled in a drab and narrow oblong Hallway within the Bowels of the crumbling Edifice, of Dimensions fit to accommodate some three hundred Persons, though twice that Number had assembled to hear the Monarch’s principal Minister give account of governmental Affairs. The Press of the Assembly, the incessant Noise, and much hither-and-thither toing-and-froing lent the Occasion a fretful, febrile and indeed fetid Atmosphere. Anon, became it apparent to me that the Questions asked of the Minister were hardly Interrogatives at all, but merely Fillips, or Snares, designed to exalt and uphold, or to undermine and to trip, the Monarch’s Government. Indeed, the Answers to all Questions put, were already known to all in Attendance, such that the Convocation represented less a Meeting of Minds, as an Elaborate Gavotte. All the Assembly seemed preoccupied with Manners, the traditional Niceties of arcane Procedure, and the inhalation of Snuff. I attempted at one Moment to apprehend the Argument of the Principal Minister, on some Point relating to Trade with Foreign Empires. “If a Chinaman,” said he, “wishes to sell me a Ping-Pong Ball for a Ducat…”
“Wiff Waff!” brayed the Phalanx of Members behind him.
“…What Business is it of our Friends across the Channel?”
At this Moment the Uproar became so intense that the Officer-in-Charge was incapable of making himself heard. As to the Value of Ping-Pong I have no Opinion, for I have no Education in the Dismal Science.